24th Aug2018

‘Clank! In! Space!’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

clank-space-box

Everyone knows that in space, no one can hear you scream, but apparently, they can hear you clank. Clank! In! Space! is the second standalone game in the Clank! universe and it is, in all but setting, as near as dammit identical to the original game. Essentially a pick up and deliver game that is driven forward by a fast and exciting deck building mechanic, Clank! is a proper board game with a lot of strategy, but at the same time, it’s very simple to pick up and learn, which makes it an excellent game for playing with a mixed audience of new and experienced gamers.

In Clank! In! Space! (and in Clank! to be fair) the players take on the role of rogueish adventurers who are making their way from one side of the map to the other, with the intention of collecting hugely valuable treasure and then escaping with their lives. Where In! Space! (In Space from now on) is concerned, the board represents a spaceship belonging to the nefarious Lord Eradikus. It features about six different combinations of modular board pieces that can be placed to change the way the game plays a little bit, but broadly speaking the experience is mostly focused on the deck building elements.

Each player begins with an identical ten card deck, which they will use to move through the ship, fight baddies and buy new cards to expand their capabilities turn by turn. The starting deck is fairly modest and allows just basic movement as well as the ability to buy cards from a shared market of six face up cards and three standard cards fairly aggressively. The starter deck also contains two Stumble cards, each of which will result in the player having to add clank cubes to a space on the board.

As cards are purchased from the shared market, new ones are drawn to replace them. Some of these cards show the Lord Eradikus symbol, at which point all of the current clank cubes are placed into a sealed bag, then a set number (depending on Eradikus’s rage level) are drawn. At setup, the bag contains twenty four black cubes, but as coloured clank cubes belonging to each player are added, the odds that one of those cubes will be drawn increases. When the drawing of cubes happens, Eradikus damages any player whose cube is drawn.

Although it may seem obvious, balancing the amount of clank (noise) you’re making versus making rapid progress through the ship is the main focus of the deck building element of In Space and let me tell you; it is wonderful. Clank! (both In Space and the original) features such a simple concept that it is nigh on impossible for players not to understand it right from the outset. The cards available to buy feature largely simple iconography – movement, purchasing and attack power are all clearly depicted, whilst additional abilities (from card combos, enters play abilities or similar) are all explained very clearly on the cards.

A turn in Clank! consists of picking up the five cards that you drew at the beginning of the last turn, then pretty much playing them all in the most advantageous order that you can. With the starter deck, this is usually a case of playing a stumble (add one clank) and then playing four hack cards (each of which provides one buying power) and then using that four buying power to purchase one or two cards from the shared pool. Later turns might see a player reveal five cards, play one for a high attack value that defeats an enemy in the shared pool but causes clank, then a fast movement card that also causes clank, then a card that removes two clank and finally, a powerful combo that heals them for trashing cards in their discard pile, at which point they remove their starting Stumble card from the game. Across all these powerful cards, they may have amassed four or five movement points plus the same in buying power, so they will then move and spend their money on further, even more powerful cards.

The board itself is filled with challenging spaces and decisions. There is a turbo lift, for example, that allows the players to move around one third of the level in a single turn, however in doing so, they also lose access to many of the special spaces on the board. Some of these contain either lesser or greater secret tokens, all of which provide benefits like additional credits or the potential to score points, among other things. The board is also littered with marketplace spaces (that allow players to buy items that affect how they can move) as well as security checkpoints, locked hallways, guarded hallways and so on.

Whilst getting from the starting point to your chosen treasure and then back to an escape pod is the aspirational goal of the game, doing so quickly is only half the story. On the way, players must stop at two data nodes in order to drop off their data cubes, each of which will increase Eradikus’s rage (and cause more cubes to be drawn from the clank bag.) The reality is though, that it’s very rare for all the players to make it back. Yes, there are cards in the deck (and tokens from the market or among the secrets) that will allow players to heal, but actually making it to an escape pod is very challenging indeed.

Instead, once the players have claimed a treasure and everyone begins to race back to an escape pod, Eradikus becomes super angry and will often take out one or more players (depending on the count) and sometimes, all the players will bite the dust. Thankfully, players only need to reach the last section of the board in order to enable scoring, so it’s possible (though unlikely) that a slow and steady player will win, even despite missing out on the twenty bonus points for escaping. Part of why escaping is so hard for the slower players is because once a player leaves the ship successfully, she effectively becomes Eradikus, placing all clank cubes from into the bag and then drawing either four (in a three or four player game) or six in a two player game every time she would have had a normal turn.

Clank! In! Space! (and I suspect Clank! is the same) is usually over in less than an hour, despite the fact that each player will have created an expansive and powerful deck, raced across a space ship, dropped off their data nodes and collected several secrets and/or treasures. It’s a rip-roaring experience that feels constantly exciting – whether that be because you’ve added a powerful card to your deck, had an extremely effective turn or just evaded what looked like certain doom. Even when you do die (which you will, sometimes) it doesn’t feel too punishing because the game simply isn’t long enough to make you feel as if you’ve lost too much. If anything, it kind of creates a desire to try again, more than to flip the table over.

Clank! In! Space! is a very enjoyable game for players at all levels of experience. It is quick to learn and very fast to setup and the deckbuilding element (especially because cards on the table are open information) offers a very organic “lets just give it a try” style of teaching. The game is equally punishing to players of all levels of experience and at least in my experience, there is no obvious “best” strategy – a power gamer who rushes ahead is just as likely to be killed before she reaches an artifact, whilst a more cautious new gamer might sneak through and get back to the cargo bay to score. By contrast, luck plays its part here and can allow a reckless and inexperienced player to triumph. There’s a lot of silliness to be had when playing Clank! as a result and it can’t be taken too seriously, but it always fun, nonetheless. As a result, it’s a solid recommendation from me and a very good entry level deck builder.

**** 4/5

Clank! In! Space! is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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